Mary, Mary, quite contrary
The real Mary O’Rourke emerges in different ways on big and small things in her memoir. She really admired Charles Haughey as “a good leader” and devotes a whole chapter to her visit, with Terry Leyden, to Abbeville (Kinsealy to the rest of us) in the run-up to Christmas 2003. “He had an air of competence about him, a stately demeanour and a confidence which meant that he was equal to any occasion: you wouldn’t have seen him, for example, having his hair ruffled at the Council of Europe, like Enda Kenny.”
She knows, she writes, “that Charlie didn’t come out smelling of roses. Yet he did give me my first break, and in that sense, I feel that I owe him that recognition.” Some pages later, she clarifies that it was “the leftover money”, not the liver money, for Brian Lenihan’s operation that he plundered. And, 20 pages later, again, she confesses in one sentence only that “this did not and does not blind me to the venality of some of his later actions”.
She is less dismissive of Albert Reynolds than might have been expected given that he removed her from the cabinet and demoted her to minister of state. “I really feel that under his time as taoiseach, matters in the North began to move at last, and in a very positive direction. And, of course, I never had any lasting animosity towards him. Why would I?”
She has no warmth for his successor, Bertie Ahern, who relegated her to the position of chairman of the joint Oireachtas committee on the constitutional amendment on children. “I have a fear that events later on in Bertie Ahern’s political life will overshadow his crucial work in the North. This shouldn’t be overshadowed and I hope it won’t, for nobody can ever take from what he did.”
On her fourth taoiseach, her judgment is curt. “The puzzle in all of this was – and it was a question that only would emerge much, much later – did Brian Cowen himself want the leadership? It is easy to imagine in retrospect that perhaps he didn’t,” she writes, suggesting that he may have sleepwalked into the job.
It is interesting, as she is so party political, that the person for whom she reserves the most odium is the former Fine Gael taoiseach Garret FitzGerald. The politician she most admires outside of Fianna Fáil is Ruairí Quinn. And there is so much more that is so revealing of her in this book. I have often felt that Mary O’Rourke was never given due recognition for the significant role she played in Fianna Fáil nationally. She was the mammy of middle Ireland.
Geraldine Kennedy was editor of The Irish Times from 2002 until 2011